Another scandal exposing police corruption and involvement of Honduran police commanders in assassinations and organized crime hit the press again in March 2016. Shortly after, on April 7, the Honduran Congress approved a decree legislating the purging of the National Police, declaring a clean up of the police a “national priority.” The decree called for the creation of a Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police.
It is not the first time a scandal incited the approval of legislation to cleanup corrupt security forces. In January 2014, the Commission for Public Security Reform was also created, and today is widely admitted to have been a huge failure, even by those that applauded its effort. Some are not surprised that it never achieved what it was created to do.
So the Honduran government is at it again. Days after the 2016 decree was approved, a three-member Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police was formed. I thought it was worth taking a look at the organizational associations and backgrounds of the three appointed Commissioners – Omar Rivera, Alberto Solórzano, and Vilma Morales.
Omar Rivera, Advocacy Director, Association for a More Just Society (ASJ); Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ)
Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) is a Honduran and U.S. faith-based organization that receives significant U.S. support from USAID to run Centros de Alcance that focus on "anti-gang and violence prevention" programs promoting extensively to address youth migration to the U.S; the Legal Advisory and Anti-Corruption Centers (ALAC); and a grant for an education program given under the Impulsing Citizen Participation, Transparency and Social Opportunities (Impactos), amongst others. ASJ receives support from the evangelical Christian Reformed Church in North America.
ASJ coordinates an initiative known as the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a broad group of “civil society organizations” that tends to dominate any spaces where “civil society” is consulted about important national issues including security, impunity, and corruption. Allies of APJ include the Civil Society Group, Transformemos Honduras, MOPAWI, and the Cofraternidad Evangelica de Honduras, amongst others. APJ is funded by the National Democratic Institute (who funds almost exclusively the same organizations allied with APJ) and the US Department of State, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, created to “improve the effectiveness and coherence of the U.S. government in conflict situations.”
Its almost impossible to research one of ASJ’s programs without connecting it to U.S. funding and programs that promote U.S. policy and cosmetic solutions to major structural problems like corruption and impunity. Many in the Honduran social movement see ASJ and the U.S. Embassy as one in the same.
Pastor Alberto Solórzano. President, Confraternidad Evangelical (CE), board member, Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ)
As mentioned previously, the Confraternidad Evangelica is one of the members of the ASJ-coordinated initiative APJ. It claims to represent 90% of all evangelical organizations in Honduras. A well-known pastor of the “Abundant Life” church and representative of the Confraternidad Evangelica, Evelio Reyes recently led public prayers in the Presidential Palace with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the First Lady Ana de Hernandez, and attendees of many evangelical churches and organizations. Evelio Reyes, a close relative of the Minister of Defense, Samuel Reyes, and friend of President Hernandez, was the subject of a 2013 law suit filed by well-respected LBGTI Honduran activist, Erick Martinez. The pastor made discriminatory and degrading insults against the LBGTI community to his congregation telling them not to “vote for homosexuals or lesbians who corrupt the model of God.”
In Reyes defense, the Confraternidad Evangelica wrote a public letter, signed by Pastor Alberto Solórzano, one of the members of the Police Purging Commission, expressing their disagreement with the investigation against Pastor Reyes and justifying the homophobic statements as “moved by the interest to present a salvation plan for humanity in order to seek the preservation of the society.” These verbal attacks and hate speech against the LGBTI community are alarming considering the violence and assassinations reported by Honduran organizations. In the last seven years, 215 LBGTI people have been murdered in Honduras, 37 of which occurred in 2015 alone.
Upon nomination to the Police Purging Commission, individuals questioned the participation of Pastor Solórzano. According to a former Attorney General, Edmundo Orellana, “no religious minister can assume public functions,” claiming that the Pastor’s nomination was illegal. Orellana’s criticisms were ignored.
It is worth mentioning that the two alternates for the Police Purging Commission are Carlos Hernandez, the President of ASJ, and Jorge Machado, a Board member of the Confraternidad Evangelica.
Vilma Morales, former President of the Supreme Court; member, Intervention Commission of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS); and member, Intervention Commission of National Welfare Institute for the Teaching Profession (IMPREMA).
Vilma Morales is best known for her participation in “intervention commissions” in at least two public Honduran institutions since 2009. She is also known as a major supporter of the 2009 military coup, denying in the weeks following that a coup taken place in Honduras. Morales represented the de-facto regime of Roberto Micheletti in negotiations after the coup, and insisted that the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya would face criminal charges upon returning to Honduras.
In Honduras, “intervention Commissions” have become understood as “privatization commissions”. In many occasions, as was the case with the IMPREMA, IHSS, and the telecommunications company, Hondutel, all public institutions were “intervened” or briefly handed over to a Commission for a structural review, that would later, propose structural reforms that set the institutions on the path to privatization. Vilma Morales was involved in two of the institutions mentioned and helped whitewash the corruption linked to high level officials in the Honduran government in both occasions, guaranteeing impunity, while ushering in major neoliberal reforms in both institutions. Morales will be known in Honduran history as a lapdog for the International Monetary Fund that ushered in the structural adjustments to the institutions.
In 2009, the de-facto government of Roberto Micheletti ransacked more than $40 million of pension funds from the Honduran teachers, one of the strongest bases of the post-coup social movement, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP). The resulting financial crisis led to the intervention commission, which Morales headed, and later, recommended serious neoliberal reforms to the institution. With the intervention of their pension fund, teachers lost control of managing small loans, social benefits, and together with the approval of a new education law, Morales and the intervention commission assisted in ushering in some of the largest changes in public education in Honduras. The teachers’ movement, one of the strongest social movements in Honduras, fell apart as a result of the major structural changes to IMPREMA, which paved the way to a slow, incremental path to privatization of public education.
Years later in 2014, Vilma Morales was appointed as head of the IHSS Intervention Commission after Honduran journalist David Romero broke a $350 million dollar corruption scandal in the Honduran Social Security Institute. The scandal involved the creation of a series of ghost companies that laundered money from the IHSS that managed social and medical benefits for public employees. The stolen money was linked to high-level officials in the current political party in power and multiple checks were deposited in the accounts of the National Party of Honduras. In the process, a financial crisis in the IHSS ensued. The IHSS was depleted of medicines, equipment, care and human resources and an estimated 3,000 people lost their lives as a result. As the crisis exploded and thousands of Honduras took to the street demanding justice, Morales was appointed to join the Intervention Commission set to review finances and restructure the IHSS. One of the Commission’s recommendations was the approval of the Law for Social Protection that was later passed in Congress and received heavy endorsement by Morales herself. Honduran unions and public workers heavily criticized the new law and mobilized to stop it with little success.
In December 2014, the Honduran government signed a $189 million dollars agreement with the IMF. In the stand-by agreement summary, the IMF applauds the structural changes made in IMPREMA, and the importance of modeling the restructuring of the IHSS off of the lessons learned in IMPREMA. Both institutional restructuring occurred after a “crisis” of corruption, the appointment and work of an Intervention Commission, and a new law that proposed radical neoliberal economic adjustments.
Vilma Morales, Omar Rivera, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano are individuals tied to strong interests in Honduras – U.S. embassy, evangelical and golpista interests. Their participation on the Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police may provide a guiding light as to the U.S. position on decisions that the Commission will have to make given Rivera and Pastor Solórzano’s strong ties to U.S. funding. Examining Rivera and Solórzano’s associations also raises important questions about the strong U.S. support and funding for evangelical churches and organizations in Honduras. Vilma Morales’ role in the Commission may be reflective of some sort of economic restructuring, although to date, the Commission has not touched on the matter.